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    Then & Now: Bus Whitehead

    Then & Now: Bus Whitehead

    Compiled By Dave Brandon

    (Photo Courtesy Nebraska High School Sports Hall Of



    basketball Hall of Famer Milton "Bus" Whitehead played

    for the Huskers from 1948-1950, and was a two time

    first-team All-Big Seven pick. In recognition of his

    efforts in helping to lead Nebraska to league titles in

    both 1949 and 1950, Whitehead is recognized as the

    captain of NU's all-time basketball team.

    Whitehead recently joined HHC for the latest Sunday

    edition of "Then & Now."

    HHC: First off, thanks a lot for taking the time

    to join us. Should we refer to you as Milton, or Bus?

    BW: Bus Whitehead would be great, and I’m happy

    to join you.

    HHC: We’re happy to have you, Bus. Before we

    talk more about you and the teams you played on,

    describe to us the kind of coach and man Harry Good was,

    since virtually none of our readers know about him.

    BW: Well, he was a fellow that started coaching

    at Indiana University when Branch McCracken had to go

    into the service, and they promised him (McCracken) his

    job when he came back. So, he was at Indiana awhile, and

    in 1946, when McCracken came back, they replaced Harry

    Good and obeyed their promise. So, Harry Good became the

    head coach at UNL in 1946-1947.


    was a good basketball coach; he believed in an awful lot

    of practice and repetition for his players, and thought

    that the more you played with the basketball, the more

    you’d get out of it. Sometimes, we’d have three

    practices per day, and he was very disciplined in

    regards to training. For instance, we were not allowed

    to ever drink milk, put ice in our water, or eat

    peanuts, stuff like that. He believed in having us be in

    good shape with lots of discipline, and having us ready

    to go out there on game nights.

    HHC: Very interesting, we didn’t know that he

    came from Indiana. What about Bus Whitehead; what kind

    of player was he?

    BW: I was 6’9” and played center, but was not

    extremely strong or too much of a jumper. However, I

    could run well, as I loved to run the floor with the

    other guys. I think I was a better than average shooter,

    and I took an awful lot of pride in my defense. I really

    took a lot of pride in not letting the other centers


    HHC: What was it like playing in the

    Coliseum in those early years?

    BW: In those days, the Coliseum was the

    best floor in the conference, even after Colorado joined

    to make it the Big Seven in 1947-1948. The Fire Marshall

    never liked to say it held over 9,000, but we generally

    always filled the place. It was between 9,000 and 10,000

    fans at any game, and they were sitting anywhere they

    could find space.

    HHC: Who were some of your teammates?

    BW: Actually, I had some excellent teammates.

    The thing was, when I started in 1945, the War had just

    gotten over. So, in ‘46 and ‘47, all these veterans came

    back, and as a result, I was always playing with

    teammates that were three to five years older than me.

    These fellows were mature men, and a lot of them had

    just gotten out of the service and gone back to school;

    they were very serious on the court and in their

    studies. In fact, everybody on our team graduated; we

    didn’t have anyone that didn’t.

    As far

    as some of my teammates, there was a 6’6” forward, who

    was extremely rugged and strong, and his name was Joel

    Malecek. Anton Lawry played on my teams, as did the

    baseball player Bob Cerv. Bob Gates and Joe Brown were

    two others, and Harry Good brought with him a player

    from Indiana named Claude Retherford. Claude was very

    fast, a good shooter, and a very flamboyant player who

    took great pride in winning games.


    Cech was also a good player, so my senior year, we had

    six very good guards, four tough forwards, and Bob

    Pierce and I alternating at center. Our strengths as a

    team were rebounding and defense.

    HHC: Your first season at Nebraska was in

    1947-1948, and you guys finished 11-13 in the first year

    of the Big Seven. Talk about what style of play was like

    back then in the Big Seven, as far as what types of

    offenses and defenses teams ran?

    BW: It was mostly all single-post in those days.

    Phog Allen was the coach at KU, and he was very

    successful that year. Bruce Drake was also successful at

    Oklahoma, as was Jack Gardner at Kansas State. Actually,

    the Big Seven was a VERY strong conference overall, as

    KU won national title in 1952, and in 1951, K-State was

    second. Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State were the

    teams to beat back then.

    HHC: In 1948-1949, you guys finished 16-10 and

    in a first place tie in the Big Seven. It was Nebraska's

    first winning season in twelve years, you enjoyed

    All-Big Seven honors, and your team played in the NCAA

    District Game. What do you remember?

    BW: I guess that it started out as another

    typical year for Nebraska, where we were winning our

    fair share of non-conference games. But, we got into the

    conference and I think we won our first three or four,

    and it gave us a ton of confidence. We said, “Hey, we

    can shoot for something better.” So, we tried to step

    our game up and play better, and ended up tying with OU.

    Then, we had a playoff with them in Kansas City to see

    who would go to the NCAA’s, and we beat Oklahoma there.

    While we lost to Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State),

    who in those days had Hank Iba as their coach, we had a

    great year. Oklahoma A & M actually went on to finish

    second in the nation.

    HHC: In 1949-1950, you guys tied for your second

    straight Big Seven title, and you earned your second

    consecutive All-Big Seven award. Describe what stands

    out from that season?

    BW: Well, once again, we got off to a good

    start, and we ended up tying with KU and K-State for the

    conference title. However, they didn’t have a playoff

    game that year since it was a three-way tie, so they

    just awarded the title to KU, who went on to the NCAA’s.

    But, we had a good year that season, so I couldn’t


    HHC: At the time your career ended, you held

    nine scoring records at Nebraska, and were the first

    Husker to ever play in the East-West All-Star game at

    New York's Madison Square Garden. Talk about what that

    meant to you personally?

    BW: It was quite an honor. You know, back

    in those days, it was quite the privilege to get to play

    in that game; Heck, I even got to guard Bob Couzy.


    thing that made that game so special was that you were

    playing with the 23 best seniors in the United States,

    so it was an honor that I enjoyed. I remember that they

    really took good care of us, as we ate good places, got

    to see plays on Broadway, and just had an unforgettable

    week. I played for the west, and we were fortunate

    enough to beat the east there at Madison Square Garden.

    HHC: What are your favorite memories of

    your times at Nebraska?

    BW: I guess my favorite times were those

    with my teammates. I was very fortunate to have some

    awfully good human beings as my teammates. We all got

    along real well, and enjoyed each other’s company, which

    was especially important back in those days, since

    travel was much different. In fact, we never did get to

    take an airplane anyplace that we played. We went either

    by car, bus, or train.


    sophomore year, we went out and played in San Francisco,

    and it was a three-day trip by train out there, and

    three days back. We did play a game in Fort Collins

    against Colorado State in-between, as well as another

    stop, but you know, living together all those days in

    the train, and you sit in those depots, and it’s a lot

    of time together. So, I think those would have been some

    long days had I not enjoyed my teammates so much.

    HHC: Whatever happened to coach Harry Good

    upon leaving Nebraska in 1954? Did you guys stay in

    touch after your career was over?

    BW: He stayed in Lincoln after he finished

    coaching basketball in 1954. He became the golf coach

    for any number of years, and he stayed here until his

    health failed him. At that time, he had a daughter who

    lived in Minneapolis, so he and his wife Pam moved up

    there, and unfortunately his wife died ahead of him,

    with him passing on up there in Minneapolis as well.

    HHC: Tell us how you launched Whitehead

    Oil Company, and what did basketball teach you about

    running your very successful business?

    BW: When I got out of school, I went to

    work for Phillips in the sales department, and I was a

    salesman for them for nine years. At the time, I lived

    in Lincoln and Hastings, and I always wanted to be a

    distributor. But anyway, I had an opportunity to buy out

    the Phillips operation in Lincoln in 1959, and that’s

    when I started Whitehead Oil Company, which I sold to my

    son in 1989.

    I think

    athletics are good for you, and taught me any number of

    things. For one, they teach you to be humble, because I

    don’t care how good you think you are, there is always

    somebody who will beat you. Also, they teach you

    discipline, because if you want to do the job, you’d

    better do it right and be prepared.

    HHC: And what is Bus Whitehead up to these


    BW: I have a company called Whitehead Inc.,

    which still has a couple convenience stores that I look

    after. Then, I have real estate and some other

    investments, and I’m fortunate that my son let’s me

    still have an office, right where it’s always been.

    (Laughs) So, I get to come down everyday and get away

    from the wife and give her some space.

    But you

    know, its fun, and even though I’m retired and not real

    active, there is always something to work on.

    HHC: If we set you up an e-mail account at

    [email protected] would you be willing to

    take e-mails from the fans?

    BW: Sure, that would be great. I’ll have to have

    someone help me check that, so bear with me, but I’d

    love to hear from the fans.

    HHC: (Laughs) Awesome. Thanks a lot for

    your time, Bus. It's been an honor talking with you.

    BW: Thanks a lot for having me. I look forward

    to navigating my way around your site as often as I can.<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">

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